An Extra Ordinary Business Dinner

I had a great meeting with a potential partner in the UK today.

At the dinner, we all answered this question, “What would you be doing, if you won the lottery today”?

This is a fantastic interview question and also a great getting to know you question as it forces introspection. I was surprised how honest and sincere my answer was. Here is what I said:

” I dont think money is as issue for me today so winning the lottery will not change my behavior too much. I think I will still go to work. I have a great job. I dont think I appreciate what I a great job I have because I have been doing it for so long. But, I also think I might quit my job and join my dad in his business because no amount of accolades in my current job will compare to spending the few remaining years I have with my father.”

I think I made some people cry at the table.


Others followed this up by their own stories of how they shaped their own careers contrary to what their parents, especially their fathers wanted them to do. One person’s dad wanted him to be a professional football player but he decided to pursue cricket and software after he reached 5’10” and stopped growing while other goalkeepers continued to grow. Another guy told me how his parents wanted him to join the restaurant business but he decided to go anothey way after seeing the pain involved in running a restaurant – even after he paid will own way through and earned a degree in restaurant and hotel management. The fourth person on the table recounted how he wanted to be an artist but his father asked him to consider a more economically profitable career. He chose software then and then instead of picking a highly paying job at a telecoms firm, he decided to work for a small visual effects company that was doing work for Jurassic Park. Its only now, at forty, that he is beginning to pursue art again. His father still does not approve but he cares a little less about it… just a little less than before mind you.

We also discussed how selfish you have to be to be an artist. You put your work before everything else. Friends, family, wife and children included to be the best you can be.

Its really interesting… the impact your parents advice has on your career and how an honest answer opens up the table for more sharing. I think we all felt a connection at the end of what could have been a very ordinary business dinner.

Strategy review as a product manager

Today, I’m traveling to San Francisco for a 30 minute presentation to the Sr. VP and GM for my BU.

This is the first time in the last 3 years that he wants to pay attention to what we are doing. I’m hoping that it is a good thing 🙂

While I’m really well prepared, I am concerned if he want to review our work or he wants to tell us what to work on. I know what’s important to him and have enough data to show that what we are doing will help him meet his goals. But.. like most execs, he is working on a 3 year vision of where we need to go and aligning the organization behind this vision. So.. will what I show him resonate with him? I’ll find out soon enough.

This happens a lot in product management. As a product manager, you are thinking 2 years out.. while tradeshow demos show feature you worked on 6 months ago. These demos, while exciting to customers look stale to you already. You have seen early and fully developed designs for what you plan to build in the next 12 months already. This is further amplified at the executive level as they are solving much larger problem with much longer gestation cycles. So.. just like what’s presented in tradeshows for your product looks old to you, your latest thinking looks old to your exec. So.. focusing on making it relevant for him and the problems he or she is trying to solve is they key to a positive strategy review experience.

iOS apps – Go Free or Die

As I work on building a small app business, its been great to hear the public commentary on pricing iPhone apps lately. The blog from Marco Arment and TechCrunch both point out clearly that mass market customer acquisition apps have to be free with in app purchases to have any chance of being downloaded.

Marco’s blog is especially interesting because he’s speaking from personal experience and is trying to solve a problem today. As a consumer myself, I’m much more likely to download a free app than a paid one. In fact, I only have one paid app on my iPad and none on my iPad. And.. I dont even use that paid application more that once a month. I have owned an iPhone for 5 years and an iPad for 3 years. 90% of apps on the Apple app store are free and 6% are priced at $0.99 as per Flurry, a market research firm.

There is also a great book by Chris Anderson called “Free” that can help you understand how to make free work for you. Even this book is no longer available for free. You might be able to find an illicit copy but its worth buying on amazon if you really serious.

Personally, I don’t see the point of creating a free app that provides a ton of value to the user. Your free app only helps Apple build a stronger ecosystem around the iPhone. Build something of value and don’t be afraid to charge for it.

I’m looking at building an location based iPhone app to help tourists. I am confident that I don’t want to give this app for free. I want to charge $20. You may think that this is absurd considering what I just wrote before but the fact is that this application is not a mass market app. It is a niche app for a very small and targeted set of customers. And, in talking to these customers, they have indicated that are comfortable paying $20 for this app. I dont think this app will make millions of dollars let alone even $500,000.

To get $500k, I will need to sell this application to 25,000 customers. That will take more than 20 years based on current estimates of users. 🙂

So.. why build it? Because I believe in the usefulness of the idea and the value it provides users. I dont expect to spend a lot of money building it and I already have customers to sell it to.



Building a world class product

I read this blog yesterday and wanted to share my thoughts on building products.

The idea of bucketing features is not new. Almost all product managers distribute features across “themes”. These themes maybe coming down from upper management as they decide key areas of focus for the company as a whole. But, it is still interesting to bucket features for your product into the categories mentioned by the author:

  • A gamechanger. People will want to buy your product because of this feature.
  • A showstopper. People won’t buy your product if you’re missing this feature, but adding it won’t generate demand.
  • A distraction. This feature will make no measurable impact on adoption.

I tried to do so but I could not find any items in the “Showstopper” category. I think its because I have a very well established product. Maybe a lot of our “incremental features” would end up in this category. We know customers will buy the product even if we did not do all these features but we should do “a bunch”

It is also not easy for me to put any feature in the “Distraction” category. I think it would be very hard for any product manager to do so. So.. maybe its better to have your customers complete this exercise for you. You cannot be as unbiased as your customers. Customers are not afraid to call you on your bullshit.

I’ve found that Amazon’s product management process is more insightful and creating this one slide for every release is a more complete exercise than just feature bucketing.

  • Heading – Name the product in a way the reader (i.e. your target customers) will understand.
  • Sub-Heading – Describe who the market for the product is and what benefit they get. One sentence only underneath the title.
  • Summary – Give a summary of the product and the benefit. Assume the reader will not read anything else so make this paragraph good.
  • Problem – Describe the problem your product solves.
  • Solution – Describe how your product elegantly solves the problem.
  • Quote from You – A quote from a spokesperson in your company.
  • How to Get Started – Describe how easy it is to get started.
  • Customer Quote – Provide a quote from a hypothetical customer that describes how they experienced the benefit.
  • Closing and Call to Action – Wrap it up and give pointers where the reader should go next.

The most useful way for me to test the validity of a release has been to present the features to a group of customers and then give them five minutes to write down their thoughts on the proposed release on a post it. The way your customers describe your features and the over all release are great for marketing as well as for course correction. Collect their descriptions and put them up on a wall.

So instead of spending all your time on powerpoint or excel creating feature lists and benefits. Get out in front of customers and practice the pitch. Be open to criticism and take notes